- Screens aspirants as Atiku is barred from voting
- Says APC wants to disrupt meeting
- Again, Makarfi denies presidential ambition
Tobi Soniyi, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Ibrahim Shuaibu in Kano
As the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) continues to bask in the euphoria of the recent defection of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to the party from the All Progressives Congress (APC), the chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Walid Jibrin, has called on Senate President Bukola Saraki, and Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso along with their supporters to return to the PDP.
“As we joyfully welcome Atiku back to his home, PDP, we are equally waiting to receive more members of the APC, including President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, Senator Kwankwaso, APC governors, other senators and House of Representatives members, who had earlier left the PDP. Thereafter all of us would unite to take power from APC come 2019,” he told journalists at a press conference in Abuja Wednesday.
He spoke just as the Chairman, National Convention Committee, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, rest assured Nigerians that the convention would be transparently conducted, warning that any attempt to manipulate its process would be catastrophic for the party.
Okowaâ€™s assurances came on the heels of the denial of the partyâ€™s Chairman, National Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, that he was nursing a presidential ambition.
Makarfi said what was uppermost on his mind now was how to conduct a successful convention that would position the party for wresting power from the ruling APC in 2019.
The BoT Chairman, Jibrin, also spoke on the controversy over micro zoning of the partyâ€™s top positions, and said it was too late to micro-zone the position of national chairman because more than eight aspirants had purchased application forms and were about to be screened by the special screening committee.
Jibrin said that all the aspirants should be allowed to test their fame and popularity at the Convention on Saturday.
“I want to assure our party members that whoever emerges the National Chairman, the BOT is ready to cooperate and work with him for the progress of the party. I would like to reiterate our position that BOT has not anointed any candidates for now,” he said.
Jibrin also said that the party would remain grateful to the judiciary for saving Nigeria and democracy, pointing out that the Supreme Court judgment that annulled Senator Modu Sheriffâ€™s claim to the partyâ€™s leadership provided the PDP with the opportunity to rebound and play its role as an opposition party.
Taunting the APC over recent defections, Jibrin said the ruling party should be grateful to Atiku for peacefully resigning with respect without tearing their party membership card as former President Olusegun Obasanjo did when he left the PDP.
He advised all former members in APC to come back to the PDP as the party remained their original home.
Also speaking Wednesday, Okowa warned members of the party against doing anything that could undermine the national convention, saying that the party would die if it fails to conduct a free and fair elective convention.
Speaking on an African Independent Television (AIT) programme, Focus Nigeria, he said the convention would either make or mar the party, warning those seeking to be elected as members of the party’s executive committee to put the interest of the party above their personal interest and refrain from doing anything that would discredit the election.
“If we allow any manipulation, PDP will die,” he warned.
He said about 50 members of the electoral committee who were also delegates with voting rights had been asked to step down as members of the committee.
This, he said, was done to ensure that the results of the votes reflect the decision of the delegates who would have the freedom to choose those they want to run the affairs of the party.
Okowa said that 21 national offices were up for grabs but that only 19 were being contested for.
He also dismissed claims that a governor was funding the convention so that his candidate for the chairmanship office would be supported for the post.
Okowa said: “It will not be easy for anyone to influence the process. We know that if we do not get this right, the party will be the loser. We have talked to ourselves. This is the convention that will make or mar the PDP.
â€œWe will deliver an election that is credible. The convention will strengthen the PDP. It will be free and fair. It is going to be a serious business. No fun fare. No dancing.”
Meanwhile, Makarfi has denied reports that he had confirmed an interest in seeking to fly the flag of PDP in 2019.
A statement by his spokesman, Mr Mukhtar Sirajo, said the report was not a true reflection of what Makarfi gave out in a chat with some journalists a couple of days ago.
He said: “The Senator was asked what threat the return of Atiku Abubakar to the party portends to the aspirations of others who had either made their intentions known or those, who, like him were rumoured to be nursing such ambition.”
His answer was that Atiku’s return would not, in any way adversely affect the rights of any member of the party to aspire to any position, adding that there was no preconditions to his return as Atiku Abubakar did not ask for, neither did the party offer any concessions to him beforehand.”
Makarfi assured members and supporters of the PDP and indeed the entire country that his own major preoccupation at the moment was to discharge the responsibility given to him to lead the process of repositioning the party, which he hoped would culminate in the conduct of a very credible and transparent convention on Saturday.
“This is what matters the most to him at this moment,” his spokesman said.
In the meantime, the PDP has alleged that some overzealous elements in the APC-led federal government were making spirited efforts to scuttle the convention even as aspirants to the various national offices Wednesday took their turns before the screening panel for the vetting of their credentials.
Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, the partyâ€™s spokesman, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, said that the party had information that some agents of the ruling party were working on plans to cause disaffection and to stop the convention from holding successfully.
Adeyeye said: “I want to particularly draw your attention to an issue that borders us. We have very credible information that some overzealous elements in the federal government are trying by all means to disrupt the convention and to make sure that this convention does not hold successfully because they know that if the convention holds successfully, their days are numbered.”
He said the leadership of the opposition was making a special appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari to put his men in check, adding that information showed that he might not be part of such dubious plots.
Adeyeye said that Atiku would address the convention but would not vote as Articles 8 and 9 of the partyâ€™s constitution forbade new entrants from voting at meetings for one year.
Speaking on the plans for the convention, Adeyeye said that adequate security arrangement had been made to ensure that everything was smooth.
He said that no one without any business at the convention would be allowed beyond one Kilometre to the venue.
He also commented on the security alert issued by the embassies of the United States and Britain on bomb threats in Abuja, saying that the party had gotten assurances that the city was safe.
Adeyeye said there would be no tampering of the delegates’ list, adding that the original copy of the delegates’ list would be made available to all contestants 48 hours before the convention.
While giving insight into what to expect at the convention, Adeyeye said 2,800 delegates would be voting but that Osun State would not be fielding delegates at the convention.
He said that there were no more threats of parallel convention as was being feared.
Adeyeye said all the aggrieved party members had been reached out to and that they had agreed to sheathe their sword.
On the complaints by some of the aspirants over possible bias by members of the electoral committee, Adeyeye dismissed such fears insisting that the party had put together fool proof process that would be transparent for all to witness.
In a related development, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja Wednesday, ordered the National Headquarters of the PDP to recognise only the state executive of the party led by Alhaji Gana Lawan for the purpose of its national convention holding on Saturday and other key activities of the party.
Ruling on an ex-parte motion filed by Lawan and 26 other members of the party against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the PDP and seven others, Justice Binta Murtala Nyako granted the seven prayers sought by the plaintiffs and restrained INEC, PDP, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, interim National Chairman of the PDP from “recognizing any other person or group of persons as the authentic leadership or Executive Committee of the PDP in Yobe State except the party leadership structure duly elected and headed by the plaintiffs as the authentic officers of the Yobe State Executive Committee of the PDP pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice”.
The court also restrained Alhaji Sani Inuwa Nguru from continuing to parade himself as the chairman of the Yobe State Executive Committee of the PDP pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
Justice Nyako also restrained the PDP and its National Caretaker Committee from taking any steps to dissolve or otherwise replace the Lawan faction as the authentic officers of the Yobe State Executive Committee of the PDP except by elections due to be conducted in May 2020 pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.